It’s January 19th and the A-10 season is young. The Billikens have just collected their 6th win in a row, to move to 5-0 in the conference, good for first place. The Bonnies on the other hand just came off of a heart-breaking double-overtime loss to Dayton at home, and are now sitting at 6-12 on the year, and 2-3 in conference play.
Who would’ve thought we’d be here, 7 weeks later, with both teams playing each other for the final spot in the top 4?
But, here we are.
The winner of Saturday’s matchup secures the final double-bye spot and significantly increases their chances of winning the whole tournament in Brooklyn. If St. Bonaventure loses, they move to 5th, meaning a win on Thursday (at the Barclays) would give them a rematch against St. Louis on Friday. If the Billikens lose, they could wind up anywhere from 5th-7th.
This season was supposed to end in an NCAA berth for the Billikens. But, unless they win the tournament, that won’t be the outcome. However, they may have finally figured it out in the past few games. They’re 4-2 in their last 6, with the two losses coming to VCU and Dayton in highly-contested games.
Once again, Mark Schmidt has the Bonnies playing their best basketball at the end of the season. Even considering their blowout loss to Davidson on Wednesday, the Bonnies are a completely different team from the one that started out 6-12.
This matchup will undoubtedly be low scoring, as both teams boast top 60 Kenpom defenses, and sub 200 Kenpom rated offenses. Young Osun Osunniyi may have his most difficult task of the year in guarding Hassan French and DJ Foreman. While Osun is taller and has a larger wingspan than anyone on the Billikens roster, St. Louis has more strength inside and could lure Osun into a difficult defensive position, or get him into early foul trouble.
Freshman point guard Kyle Lofton will also have his hands full with Tramaine Isabell, the transfer point guard from Missouri. While Lofton has had a fantastic rookie campaign, he has cooled off lately, averaging only 9.25 points in his past four contests. Isabell on the other hand, has been red-hot, averaging over 23 points in his past five games. Mark Schmidt has called Lofton his best defender before, and he will need to at least slowdown Isabell if the Bonnies want to win today.
Courtney Stockard, the Bonnies best player and the rock that has held this team together all season, will look to rebound from his worst performance ever against Davidson. He scored only 1 point in 17 minutes, had 3 turnovers, and fouled out. Stockard has had a problem taking care of the ball lately, turning it over 21 times in his past five games. The Bonnies will need to the “good” Courtney Stockard that likes to take games over for their offense to be effective against a stifling St. Louis defense.
History favors the Bonnies. They’ve won their past eight contests against the Billikens, and are 9-1 in their past 10 senior days. But the Bonnies don’t have Jaylen Adams or Matt Mobley any more to knock down back-breaking threes. On top of that, the Bonnies have yet to beat a team all season with a top 140 Kenpom rated defense. St. Louis’s is rated 57th, and will try to force the Bonnies into uncomfortable possessions, just like VCU, Davidson, and Rhode Island did.
No, the Bonnies offense is not fun to watch. No, they haven’t beaten a decent defense all year. And no, they aren’t carrying momentum from their last game. But something tells me Mark Schmidt will have his team ready for this one, and that the seniors will leave their hearts on Bob Lanier Court. They’re 13-0 when they hold their opponents to under 60 points, and I think that the Billikens will cool off after scoring 81 and 85 in consecutive games.
Saint Louis 56, St. Bonaventure 61